7 Deadly Sins of Media Relations
Bless me, for I have sinned.
Once upon a time, I worked in public relations. It was my job to entice Charlotte media to cover stories and events for clients and organizations I represented.
I made mistakes along the way. A lot of them. I learned as much or more about what not to do as what to do.
And, now, as editor and co-publisher of The Biscuit, I’m on the other side. I’m on the receiving end of requests and story pitches. These days, with the world still gripped by coronavirus, we receive a plethora of pitches from folks producing online events, panel discussions, fundraisers, etc.
And, I can see their PR sins. Everything I’ve done unto reporters and editors in the past is being done unto me.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In the immortal words of Jerry McGuire: “Help me help you.” If you can avoid the sins below, your chances of getting your online event (or any event) covered go up exponentially. We developed the list below for a training session for the alumni of the #SEED20 program managed by Social Venture Partners Charlotte and the From SEED to Harvest Program.
Below are seven deadly PR sins I’ve seen (and committed myself):
1) Making the media work hard to tell your story (or to even figure out what story you’re trying to tell!).
This is the granddaddy of them all, and all the PR sins below flow from it. Reporters, editors and producers were already strapped and working hard when I started my PR career in the ‘90s. They’re trying to do much more with way less now.
If you want the media to devote some of their limited bandwidth to your event, you’ve got to make it easy for them. If you make it too hard for them to tell your story, you’re pushing against their limited resources and decreasing your chances to secure coverage.
So, flip that. The easier you make it, the more work you do in advance to take work off their plates … the closer you are to getting what you want.
2) Forgetting to promote your event on your own website and social feeds.
It sounds insane, but one of the most common mistakes people make when asking a journalist to promote their event is failing to post the same information on their own website or social media feeds. When a reporter or editor double-checks, they’ll see that.
And they’re likely to think: “If the information you just sent me isn’t important enough to be in your feeds, why should it be on mine? Why should I put in the time you didn’t?”
3) Ignoring the time-space continuum (a.k.a. waiting until the last minute).
Procrastination is nothing new. Last-minute, desperate appeals for promotion aren’t new, either. But, COVID and online events have made it much worse. Where we used to get event information five days out, we’re frequently getting it with 48 hours’ notice — or less. Sometimes it’s mere hours before an online event. Even if we can cover it, the likelihood it’ll generate an audience for you is significantly low.
That was understandable in March and April 2020 when everyone was scrambling. But, in February 2021, it isn’t.
I’ll bet you usually spend weeks on an event. So, please give us (many) weeks worth of notice. That way, we can cover your event well — and well in advance.
When you throw out an 11th-hour email with a request for coverage, you’re not only potentially dooming your upcoming event, you run the risk of having a reporter think you wait until the last minute to do everything. Reporters may be less likely to do you a solid in the future if you waste their time once.
Extra TIP: It helps to know the publication schedule of the media you’re pitching. If I send my e-newsletter on a Wednesday, telling me about your Friday event on Thursday is a waste of everyone’s time. Do the work in advance to know how each media source works before you send your pitch.
4) Ignoring the sales process.
Too many emails start and end with, “I’d really appreciate it if you’d share my event with your followers.”
While favors are done in media, this ain’t a favor business. We need to share content our audiences will be interested in. So, sell me, baby. Sell me. Tell me why this event is right for my readers/followers and why it’s too awesome to miss.
Appealing to my guilt by saying, “This would really help a lot,” just makes me feel bad when I have to say “no.” (I was raised Catholic. Guilt is part of my DNA.) Flip that script. Go that extra mile and give a well-written, compelling event description that easily answers the biggies: Who? What? When? Where?
Make it impossible for me to decline your pitch. In fact, make me want to attend your event.
5) Forgetting to include the event link.
I can hear you say, “I’d never do that.”
Yes. You will.
As surely as someone on my next Zoom will forget they’re on mute, someone will send an email today asking me to promote their Zoom event … without giving me the registration or event link.
Breathe before you send the email appeal for coverage and make sure you included the link. Don’t make the media have to hunt for your link. Chances are, they won’t.
6) Not providing promotional images.
When it comes to events, this is the most common of all the seven PR sins. Media needs images to share your event on their Web, broadcast or social feed. Period. It’s an absolute must.
At The Biscuit, we try to be nice. If you don’t send an image, but we like your event, we may search for one or even create one to use.
Half the time, when we do go the extra mile and find or create an image, the person who neglected to send an image in the first place dislikes it and asks us to change it after we’ve posted. Ummm … yeah. That goes in your permanent file.
Please provide an attractive, simple image (with photographer/artist attribution) I can pop into the web, an email or more.
Bonus points if you provide high-resolution graphics sized for various social media. I promise, that, too, goes in your permanent file with a gold star.
7) Ghosting media after they cover you.
Once your event has been covered, you have a chance to truly distinguish yourself, make a friend and sow the seeds for the next story: Send a quick “thank you.” (Yes, mom, I was listening.)
If the media cover your event, please acknowledge it. It’s all too often that the next time I hear from someone who got coverage is … the next time they need coverage. Ghosting the media source that just devoted resources to help you is no way to build a relationship.
Like everything else, media is a relationship business. As I said, reporters, editors and producers are incredibly busy people. They are more likely to work with you again if you’ve demonstrated you understand their time constraints and can work with them.
Say “thanks.” Join their subscriber list. (Actually, you ought to do that before your first pitch.) Share the coverage on your channels to help build their reputation and audience as well as yours. I promise it’ll be appreciated and remembered the next time you pitch.
Well, I feel awesome now that I’ve confessed my sins.
You don’t have to repeat my sins. Please pitch responsibly.
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